The Cuban Government has created several agencies to protect the environment, among which we can find the National Park Ranger Service; the National Commission on Environmental Protection and the Rational Use of Natural Resources (1977); the National Environmental Education Program; the Academy of Sciences of Cuba and the National Commission for the Protection of the Environment and the Conservation of Natural Resources. As of 2000, Cuba's most pressing environmental problems were deforestation and the preservation of its wildlife. The government has sponsored a successful reforestation program aimed at replacing forests that had gradually decreased to a total of 17% of the land area by the mid-1990s.
Endangered species in Cuba include the Cuban solenodon, four species of tree (banana) rats (jutías), two species of crocodiles (American and Cuban rombifer) and the Cuban tree boa. In 2001, 9 out of 31 mammal species were considered threatened. Thirteen out of 137 bird species were also in jeopardy. Seven out of 105 types of reptiles were dying out, along with 834 plant species of a total of 6,000. The ivory-billed woodpecker, the Cuban red macaw, the Caribbean monk seal and Torre's cave rat have become extinct.
The National System for Protected Areas of the Republic of Cuba has put forth a proposal, after detailed studies on the values of the country’s biodiversity, to establish the nation’s areas of greatest ecological, social, historical and cultural relevance. This is to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the Cuban biodiversity, considering it a priority within the National Environmental and Development Program. It also shows the commitment of the Cuban State to use part of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This system is composed of 236 units, 79 of which are protected areas of national importance, with the rest being considered locally relevant.
The Republic of Cuba, with a population of 11.24 million, is the largest island in the Antilles, separating the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico to the north from the Caribbean Sea to the south. It is 1,250 km. (775 miles) long and ranges from 40 km. to 160 km. (24 to 96 miles) in width. The country consists of more than 4,000 islands and keys; nearly 6,000 km. (3,600 miles) of palm- and mangrove-lined coastline; almost 300 natural beaches; three major mountain ranges with numerous interconnecting ranges; rain forests and broad, rich and verdant, fertile plains and valleys dotted with tall, stately palms. The climate is moderately sub-tropical with an average temperature of 24.6°C (76.3 F): 25°C (77 F) in summer and 22°C (71.6 F) in winter.
The island is completely surrounded by thousands of kilometers of coral reefs containing the most diverse variety of corals, fish and other marine life to be found anywhere, with steep walls dropping from reefs to the abyss.
More than 150 species of Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean fish abound in Cuban waters, from the majestic marlin, swordfish and sailfish to bonefish, tarpon, shook and permit found on flats and in estuaries, with snappers and groupers on the reefs. Tuna, cobia, mackerel, sea trout, jack and barracuda also proliferate. Socio-economic development blends into the conservation of the environment. These protected areas are organized into management categories comprised within the National System.
More than 20 systems of caves and caverns can be explored throughout the island. Some of these have rivers or groundwater caves connected with the sea. Many of them treasure ancient native pictographs, all with their unique living species.
In addition, there are seven special regions of sustainable development, composed of the country’s four mountain ranges (Guaniguanico, Guamuhaya, Sierra Maestra and Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa), the Zapata marshland and the Canarreos archipelago and flat grassland. Among the protected areas of national importance, the foremost are 14 national parks, 25 ecological reserves, 6 Biosphere Reserves (Guanahacabibes, Sierra del Rosario, Ciénaga de Zapata, Buenavista, Baconao and Cuchillas del Toa), the cultural landscape of Valle de Viñales (valley) and Desembarco del Granma World Heritage Site.
The special regions of sustainable development and the Biosphere Reserves are not included within the management categories of the National System of Protected Areas. But through its economic expansion, potential, national and international relevance of its natural values and fragile ecosystems, they are closely related to the system. The group of protected areas, including all its alternatives and management categories, accounts for approximately 22% (1,400,000 hectares) of the national territory. In Cuba, Nature’s wonders like the blind fish can be found living in crystalline waters of underground lakes in karst caverns of Pinar del Río, the westernmost province. Other truly charming species are part of the Cuban ecosystem, such as dazzling snails called polymita and the smallest frog on the planet (Eleutherodactylus limbatus, less than 1 cm. in length), the tiniest hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae or zunzuncito, 63 mm.), rare and beautiful orchids and extraordinary butterflies with transparent wings.
Cuba is, indeed, an ecological paradise with favorable settings for nature and ecotourism lovers. Actually, it is possible to take advantage of its immense wealth and ecological diversity.
Bird watching, flora and fauna in general, photo hunting, a relaxing horseback ride or sailing rivers on typical boats are all great ways to become acquainted with Cuba.
“Avalon is committed to providing environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible diving. We do not condone the mishandling, feeding or harassment of marine life, while encouraging every visiting diver we entertain to approach their diving with the same attitude. Our staff will consistently display these sentiments and behavior in order to protect the very special environments that we operate in, as they are totally focused on preserving the beauty of the natural underwater surroundings in both Cayo Largo and Jardines de La Reina.”